Why 33 countries?

Here's a nice simple question.

Why 33 countries?

Well, the idea for the 33rides project grew out of an Interrail ticket. 

Interrail — and its sister-network Eurail — is an alliance of railway companies in thirty-three countries in Europe.

Or is it? 

We'll come back to that cliff-hanger of an "or is it" shortly.

But first, a paragraph or two on the history of Interrail.

Launched in 1972, Interrail was designed to give people (young people, initially, but, later, everybody) the chance of unlimited travel across the railway networks of participating countries for the price of a single ticket or "Interrail Pass" (although, as we'll see as the 33rides project progresses, it's not always quite as simple as that).

Originally covering 21 countries, Interrail has expanded over the years, spreading geographically to cover new territories and also to encompass the newly independent states which have emerged in Europe since 1990.

So, for the 33rides project, we have used "the Interrail countries" as a proxy definition for "Europe".

It's not a perfect definition. 

(Is there a perfect definition of Europe? We've not found one that would satisfy everyone. Perhaps we'll do a blog post on this some day.)

So, for now — let's get back to the "Interrail" definition of Europe, and its problems.

Some countries that are — or might be — considered geographically "European" are missing: notably Albania, Moldova and Ukraine. (You could add Andorra, Cyprus, Malta, San Marino and the Vatican City to that list, too, although since these countries have no operational railways, they are out-of-scope for the 33rides project in any case.)

On the other hand, Turkey is included, even though by most reckonings, Turkey (or at least Turkey-east-of-the-Bosphorus) lies outside of geographical Europe.

So if you start with a definition of Europe as "the countries lying within the continental landmass to the west of the borders of the former Soviet Union, and their associated offshore islands (but not including Greenland or the overseas territories of Britain, France and Spain), plus the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the offshore European islands of Britain and Ireland, and excluding Albania, Andorra and two micro-states within Italy", then you've probably defined the Interrail countries about as concisely as you can*.

And if you follow that definition closely, you should find you've counted 33 countries.

Which is good news, because that's exactly what the official Interrail website will tell you.

OK, so let's talk about Monaco.

Monaco has an operating railway line, serving Monaco - Monte Carlo railway station, connected to the French railways network and operated by the French national railway company SNCF. 

And, if you have an Interrail pass, you can use it for trains to, from and through Monaco. 

But is Monaco listed on the Interrail website?


So are there really 34 countries in the Interrail network?

We think so. 

Why don't the Interrail people list Monaco on their website?

We're not really sure. 

Are we going to visit Monaco as part of the 33rides project?

You bet.

But are we going to change the name of our project to #34rides?



Well, mostly because changing the domain name, the Twitter account, and the YouTube page would be a real hassle.

And also because we suspect we'd find ourselves having a lot of very long conversations with people who think that there are only 33 countries in the European Interrail network because that's what it says on the Interrail website.

And also because... Well, you see the conversation about Monaco above? OK, now copy and paste it, then do a find-and-replace job, replacing "Monaco" with "Liechtenstein". 

Same story all over again.

Except that Liechtenstein has not one, not two, but three functioning railway stations (the Interrail website says four, but we think they're wrong), and its railway is run by Austrian Railways (ÖBB).

OK so actually it's 35 countries?

We think so.

So, there you go. 

You asked the question: Why 33 countries?

And here's your answer. It's 33 countries because... well, it's complicated. 

If you've made it this far, congratulations. It's been a long read. (Just imagine how it felt having to write it.) 

Thanks for sticking with us.

To adapt the immortal words of Peter Cook, it's an extremely long story, but it's also extremely boring.

* Actually, for the word-counters among you, it would be quicker just to list them by name. To save you the trouble, here's the list: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.